Step-by-step instructions from Elsevier for reviewers

Are you a young researcher being asked to review an article for the first time, or are you an experienced researcher whose expertise has attracted a world-class international publication and you want to show that you are not only an expert in your field but also a high quality reviewer worth referring back to. Therefore, we recommend that you read Elsevier's step-by-step guide «How to conduct a review»:

  1. Before you begin

Before you accept or decline an invitation to review, consider the following questions:

  • Does the article match your area of expertise? Only accept if you feel you can provide a high-quality review.
  • Do you have a potential conflict of interest? Disclose this to the editor when you respond.
  • Do you have time? Reviewing can be a lot of work – before you commit, make sure you can meet the deadline.

Respond to the invitation as soon as you can (even if it is to decline) – a delay in your decision slows down the review process and means more waiting for the author. If you do decline the invitation, it would be helpful if you could provide suggestions for alternative reviewers.

  1. Managing your review

Confidential material

If you accept, you must treat the materials you receive as confidential documents. This means you can’t share them with anyone without prior authorization from the editor. Since peer review is confidential, you also must not share information about the review with anyone without permission from the editors and authors.

Article- and journal-specific instructions

When you sit down to write the review, make sure you familiarize yourself with any journal-specific guidelines (these will be noted in the journal’s guide for authors available on each journal’s homepage).

Some journals require reviewers to answer specific questions about the manuscript instead of preparing a full review report. If the journal in question does not require you to respond to a list of specific questions, you might find it helpful to consider the below points before preparing your comments to the editor/author(s):

Full length research article

  • Examine the importance of the research question addressed in the manuscript (e.g. are objectives and justification clearly stated?).
  • Assess the originality (contribution, addition of knowledge to scientific literature or field) of the manuscript.
  • Clearly identify the strengths and weaknesses of the method described in the manuscript.
  • Make specific useful comments on the writing of the manuscript (e.g. writing, organization, figures, etc.).
  • Offer specific comments on the author’s interpretation of the results and conclusions drawn from the results.
  • In case applicable, comment on the statistics (for example question if they are robust and fit-for-purpose and if the controls and sampling mechanisms are sufficient and well described).

Review article

  • Discuss the importance of the topic/scope of the review.
  • Assess the originality of the review.
  • Comment on the author's representation of the most relevant recent advances in the field. Specifically, determine whether the references are relevant to the topic and cover both historical literature and more recent developments.
  • Offer comments on the writing, organization, tables, and figures of the manuscript.
  • Comment on the author's interpretation of the results.
  • In any case, your first task is to read the article. You might consider spot checking major issues by choosing which section to read first. Below we offer some tips about handling specific parts of the paper.


If the manuscript you are reviewing is reporting an experiment, check the methods section first. The following cases are considered major flaws and should be flagged:

  • Unsound methodology.
  • Discredited method.
  • Missing processes known to be influential on the area of reported research.

A conclusion drawn in contradiction to the statistical or qualitative evidence reported in the manuscript

For analytical papers examine the sampling report, which is mandated in time-dependent studies. For qualitative research make sure that a systematic data analysis is presented and sufficient descriptive elements with relevant quotes from interviews are listed in addition to the author’s narrative.

Research data and visualizations

Once you are satisfied that the methodology is sufficiently robust, examine any data in the form of figures, tables, or images. Authors may add research data, including data visualizations, to their submission to enable readers to interact and engage more closely with their research after publication. Please be aware that links to data might therefore be present in the submission files. These items should also receive your attention during the peer review process. Manuscripts may also contain database identifiers or accession numbers (e.g. genes).

Critical issues in research data, which are considered to be major flaws can be related to insufficient data points, statistically non-significant variations and unclear data tables.

Ethical considerations

Experiments including patient or animal data should properly be documented. Most journals require ethical approval by the author’s host organization. Please check journal-specific guidelines for such cases (available from the journal’s homepage).

  1. Structuring your review

Your review will help the editor decide whether or not to publish the article. It will also aid the author and allow them to improve their manuscript. Giving your overall opinion and general observations of the article is essential. Your comments should be courteous and constructive, and should not include any ad hominem remarks or personal details including your name (unless the journal you are invited to review for employs open peer review).

Providing insight into any deficiencies is important. You should explain and support your judgement so that both editors and authors are able to fully understand the reasoning behind your comments. You should indicate whether your comments are your own opinion or are reflected by the data and evidence.

Your recommendation

When you make a recommendation, it is worth considering the categories the editor will likely use for classifying the article:

  • Reject (explain your reasoning in your report).
  • Accept without revision.
  • Revise – either major or minor (explain the revision that is required, and indicate to the editor whether you would be happy to review the revised article). If you are recommending a revision, you must furnish the author with a clear, sound explanation of why this is necessary.


  1. After your review

Do not forget that, even after finalizing your review, you must treat the article and any linked files or data as confidential documents. This means you must not share them or information about the review with anyone without prior authorization from the editor.


We also offer you to familiarize yourself with other useful articles on the website of our publishing house PC TECHNOLOGY CENTER, dedicated to peer review:

– 10 reasons from Elsevier why you should accept a review invitation

– How to become a reviewer by means of Publons?

– Why serve as a peer reviewer?

– Misunderstanding of the Concept of Double-Blind Peer Review

– How to respond to reviewer comments – the CALM way

– 7 reasons for the negative assessment of reviewers


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